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November 01, 2003


Dear Friedrich --

* How lucky for everyone that City Journal, one of the best magazines around, puts all its contents online. There's a new issue up here, and it's full of tasty-looking treats. Be sure not to miss this piece by Brian Anderson here, about how the leftist hold on the media is relaxing. It's interesting and perceptive -- and I don't say that only because a certain M. Blowhard is quoted in it. (Twice!! Twice!!! Oops, sorry: lost my cool there for a sec.)

* How to get a foot onto the art-world ladder? Rose Aidin writes a good piece for the Guardian about young artists who take jobs as assistants to famous artists, here.

* Mike Snider (whose own blog is here) spotted this NYTimes piece by Michael Luo (here). It's about a Mercedes-Benz dealership in Manhattan that was originally designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and that has just gotten a fix-up. Not the most practical or convenient automobile showroom, apparently.

* Signal + Noise (here) points out a Scientific American q&a with string-theory honcho Brian Greene here.

* Alan Sullivan, who's a poet and a sailor, often blogs about the weather (here) -- he gives clouds and storms the kind of attention novelists sometimes give to their characters' psychologies. Recently he wrote a lovely posting about a show of French and British paintings from the 19th century (here). It isn't your typical piece of artcrit -- Alan focuses especially on how well the artists do light, clouds and water.

* JW Hastings has some tart things to say about how blogging about comics compares to having message-board conversations about comics, here.

* Jon Gertner profiles Harvard prof Daniel Gilbert for the NYTimes Magazine, here. Gilbert is studying happiness -- what causes it, why it goes away, etc. Visitors who've enjoyed conversations on this blog about such topics as behavioral economics, utility, and why we bother getting up in the morning at all will probably enjoy the piece.

* It's a font-and-typeface universe these days, isn't it? Are you sensitive or responsive to typefaces? I'm not, at least not much -- about all I seem to care about is that the size of the body text show a little respect for my lousy middle-aged vision, and that it have serifs so my eyes have something to grab hold of. Even so, I enjoyed this piece here by the graphic designer Mark Simonson called "The Scourge of Arial," Arial being a typeface that Mark doesn't like one bit.

* Tom Ehrenfeld takes the pulse of the Wal-Mart economy in three postings, here, here, and here. It's fun and interesting to follow his arguments as well as his links to other articles on the topic.

* Social Security -- train wreck or ... well, train wreck? In TechCentralStation, Megan McArdle lays out the facts, the issues, and some possible ways of wrestling with the mess, here.

* Have you heard the term "food porn"? It's a funny way of describing the kind of over-doting, over-luscious writing about food that's so common these days. Molly O'Neill writes about how food porn came to be for the Columbia Journalism Review here.

* I'm still intending to get around to Virginia Postrel's new (or, by now, newish) book "The Substance of Style." Any day now! But I did enjoy tantalizing myself with this excerpt (here) that Reason Online ran from the book. It's about planned and gated communities; those curious about suburbs and the New Urbanism should find it interesting. Here's an informative review of Postrel's book by Francis Morrone for the NY Sun.

* Lynn Sislo shows the right way to respond to one of those A-Z web quizzes, here.

* George Hunka reads "The Professor and the Madman" and wonders what good going to college does, here.

* David Sucher (here) points to this first-class piece by Deyan Sudjic for the Guardian about how silly it is for cities to be wasting time and money commissioning self-conscious, flashy architecture, here. A terrific passage that I can't resist copying and pasting is a quote from Paul Finch, a sensible-sounding British architecture-world figure:

When you set out to make an icon, you end up with something like London's Docklands, where architects tried hard to be interesting, and produced a lot of exclamation marks but not much prose. An iconic building is about a silhouette, it's about what photographs well, not what it is like to use. The icon is the ultimate in media architecture, it's the Lara Croft of architecture.

* David Sucher's terrific revised edition of his book "City Comforts" is now onsale here. I like the book a lot and rhapsodize about it some here.

* Steve Sailer (here) turned up this interesting collection of letters to the editor of the Wall Street Journal here. The Journal is notorious for its advocacy of a near-open-door immigration policy. Good to see that a number of its readers object. (And good for the Journal for having the guts to run these letters.) Peter Hitchens claims here that UK officials are beginning to wake up to their immigration problem.

* Have you ever caught the James Garner movie "Support Your Local Sheriff"? I haven't either. Will Duquette (here ) and Terry Teachout (here ) are both fans.

* Penguin slapstick, here.

* The last taboo, smashed: Halley Suitt admits that she really, really likes alpha males, here.

* Arts subsidies, arts subsidies ... America's supposed to be so cheap about supporting the arts, right? Yet one thing that smacks you in face if you've spent a few minutes hanging around the art world is how many arty people get help from their families. The publishing world, for instance, couldn't survive if it weren't for mommies and daddies helping their low-level publishing progeny make the rent. I've always wondered why these contributions to the arts are never taken into account. Forgive the overlong introduction to a provocative couple of postings by Tyler Cowen, here and here. Tyler's asking why remittances (money earned here and then sent back to the folks in the Old Country) don't count as foreign aid.

* Dept. of Someone Didn't Know This Already?: Judy Peres writes in the Chicago Tribune that women and men have different attitudes towards sex, here.



posted by Michael at November 1, 2003


On Fonts

My field is the world of roleplaying games. Where discussions can get as heated as in any other creative endeavour. And where bad choices get made.

I once looked through a rule book entitled, "Engel" (nothing to do with Frederich). A nicely produced tome, with good layout, good graphics, and nice illustrations. And the worst text font I have ever inflicted upon my eyes. A font that said, "Aint I magnificent?" thereby making it almost impossible to actually read the text. I don't know about you, but as far as I can see a text font is supposed to make the act of reading a comfortable experience.

We are talking here of a braggart's font. A typeface that grabs one by the testicles and threatens to inflict a migraine that would scare morphine to death. An example of typography about as welcoming as a lynch party.

But, it is not an ugly font. Rather, it is an elegant, beautiful font. It's just the wrong font for blocks of text. Apparently somebody thought it looked good, and decided to use it for the prose, when it would have served much better for headers etc.

Then there is the matter of ragged right margins and double spacing between paragraphs. But that's another bete noire of mine, which I won't go into.

Keep blogging, I find your postings interesting.

Alan Kellogg

Posted by: Alan Kellogg on November 1, 2003 11:30 PM

Re: Anderson's piece in the City Journal: congrats to Michael on his quotes! But, sigh, all these over-the-top pieces seem to say is "Hurray---now the Right can distort the news just as much as the Left always did!!" What "the Right" doesn't seem to get is they've simply lumped themselves right into the same bucket. They always complained about the "bias" in the media, but it wasn't "bias" they objected to at all. It was LEFTWARD bias. Why be so proud of rightward bias? They didn't want fair reporting. They want reporting that spins the story THEIR way instead of someone else's way. No moral high ground, or even objectivity, to be found here anywhere. NOW when conservatives say "The New York Times is so liberal", my reaction is "So?".

Posted by: annette on November 2, 2003 6:42 AM

I should have read farther than the praise of FOX. But when I saw Anderson praising it in the 2nd paragraph I found it the article becoming so non-serious that I stopped reading.

Some advice to conservatives-- you have much to offer but don't lead by holding up FOX as some sort of "good thing" as FOX merely undermines any claims you have to thoughtful discussion. (And you don't need to have that chip on the shoulder atitude, either. If your arguments have any merit, the weight of global corporate power will see them through.)

In the big picture, Annette called it right. But I'd go father, these current day Conservative wnnabees (they are not true conservative in any traditional sense but quite radical) don't seem to have even the remotest sense that "fair and balanced" are actually valid media values.

If there is anyone who has taken license from Jacques Derrida that we constantly recreate reality (and that that's OK) it would be Rupert Murdoch.

Posted by: David Sucher on November 2, 2003 10:38 AM

I'd seen "The Scourge of Arial," before (and passed the "How to Spot Arial" test with flying colors. Sadly, of all the qualities this thoughtful essay discusses, making writing easy to READ isn't up high on the list.

My bete noire is words being converted from easy to scan and read text to attractive "page elements."

Nice bag O' links all around.

Posted by: j.c. on November 2, 2003 1:25 PM

I don't watch Fox either and would certainly never bother to defend it specifically. But in a general way I'm glad it's there. Silly of them to claim "fair and balanced" (or whatever the slogan is they wanted to copyright) -- they should just be forthright about their bias. But their presence (coarse though it may be) is helping keep the other news outlets more on their toes, and that strikes me as a helpful thing. Another for instance: The NYTimes is infinitely more substantial than the NYPost, but I'd be unhappy if the only paper NY had were the Times. Better to have an open discussion (even if some loudmouths get to take part) than to have no discussion at all, no?

How do y'all feel about "objectivity" in the news? I mean, should all outlets be striving for some kind of abstract "balance" and "fairness"? Or is it a better option for each outlet to have its own biases but to wear them proudly and openly? I realize there are other choices, but if you had to choose between the two? I guess I'd plump for the latter. Whatever the virtues of striving for "objectivity," in practice a lot of power winds up in the hands of whoever gets to define what's objective and what's not -- and that person (or institution or whatever) of course has a bias. So why not just be upfront about it? In my (debatable, of course) view, it'd take a load off of everyone -- the NYTimes could get on with its leftist-ish thing without bothering to pretend to be doing otherwise. (Personally, I'd have no quarel with the Times if only it were more forthright about its agenda and point of view.) Fox could declare itself rightwing and get on with its harangues. And everyone else could try to sell whatever point of view they're convinced of and hope an audience might go for. I think the endless search for objectivity weighs down journalism in this country. It has its virtues, but it's also deadening and muffling. How does everyone else feel about this? I'll note that in Europe the news outlets are pretty forthright about their stances. There's (or was, back when I was over there) a Marxist paper, a "liberal" paper, a conservative one ... The usual thing was to pick up a couple of papers and assemble your own picture of the world from the pictures they were selling.

Readability -- sigh. Remember readability? Remember when it was seen as a Good Thing? Hey, here's a visit with David Carson, popularizer of anti-readability, skateboard-edginess graphic design. Interested in hearing how people respond to him and his work.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on November 2, 2003 4:06 PM

I don't put it in terms of "objectivity" so much as "irony" and "modesty" and a degree of "self-doubt." I think it's fine to have strong opinions and to express them strongly.

But I find the person who puts forth views with vigor is far more credible to me if they also evince a certain degree of sincere respect for the opposition's ideas and dignity. What's galling about FOX is not so much their substantive opinions -- I agree with a surprising number. But the manner with which they present them --- sneering and bullying --- is offensive.

Plus, of course, it indicates to me that they really don't have much confidence or else they wouldn't have to shout.

So it's not so much "objectivity" as some sense that others, too, have opinions and sometimes they might even be correct. That sense of distance from one own's opinions --- "I own the opinions, they don't own me" --- allows one to weigh them, hold them to the light and "play" with them.

I can imagine Bill Clinton playing with ideas, trying them out; I cannot imagine Pat Buchanan being able to do so, very bright man that he is.

Liberalism and conservativism are defined almost as much by temperament as substance.

Posted by: David Sucher on November 2, 2003 5:52 PM

I find myself watching Fox (when I watch news at all) simply because it's not boring. With the exception of (excuse the expression) blowhards like O'Reilly, most of the people on Fox seem to not take themselves so dreadfully seriously as the rest of the crowd. There's an energy there that makes it interesting even when you disagree with their take...

Posted by: jimbo on November 2, 2003 6:44 PM

Btw, The Volokh Conspiracy complains complains correctly about lack of "objectivity" on the left.

So why should the Right have some sort of exemption?

Posted by: David Sucher on November 2, 2003 11:58 PM

I also have long been very fond of the movie Support Your Local Sheriff.

Posted by: Brian Micklethwait on November 3, 2003 9:15 AM

In case anybody's wondering, the font I referred to in my initial offering on this thread is called, "Engel". It was specifically designed for the book.

Call me what you will, but I much prefer a good read over an "impress the fuck out of 'em" typeface.

On the growing "conservative voice". Seen it. Ethical kidney stones being replaced by moral constipation. Give it another five or ten years and you'll see the old school conservatives attacking the new school conservatives for betraying the True Faith® while the latter deride the former for being old style fascist swine.

(Schisms, not for monolithic religions anymore.:D)

Extreme liberalism will have its day again. I'm hoping for the day when there's an effective medical treatment for extremism and fanaticism, so us grown-ups can get on with life and get something constructive done.

Then again, I'm of the considered opinion that people shouldn't be accounted adult until they're 26. So what do I know?

Posted by: Alan Kellogg on November 3, 2003 11:52 AM

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